Sun, stoning and supplication: What are the rituals of Hajj?

Sun, stoning and supplication: What are the rituals of Hajj?
What are more than two million pilgrims doing in this year's annual Hajj pilgrimage?
4 min read
30 August, 2017
More than 2 million are taking part in Hajj this year [Getty]
The annual Hajj pilgrimage is a much-anticipated dream for the world’s Muslim community, and on Wednesday, more than two million will watch that dream manifest while standing before the glorious Kaaba.

But before the Eid celebrations begin, pilgrims must experience at least three days of gruelling rituals under the scorching sun of the Arabian dessert.

According to Islamic jurisprudence and theology, the following is a list of the rules and steps taken by Muslims since the time of Prophet Muhammad.  

- Ihram: Pilgrims wear special outfits, which for men is a two-piece white seamless garment. Women wear loose dress, generally white, with only the face and hands exposed. During this period, pilgrims must abstain from sex and quarrelling, not use perfume and not cut their hair or nails, among other restrictions.

Hajj in numbers:

- More than two million pilgrims are taking part this year, according to official figures, compared to 1.86 million last year and just 24,000 in 1941.

- Some 221,000 Indonesians are currently in Mecca, the highest ever number from a foreign country, an Indonesian official told the Saudi Gazette newspaper.

- More than 100,000 security personnel have been mobilised to keep pilgrims safe, the Saudi interior ministry says.

- Some 17,000 civil defence employees backed by 3,000 vehicles are also helping with security.

- Thousands of security cameras have been set up along the pilgrimage route, according to a civil defence spokesman.

- Tens of thousands of air-conditioned tents have been set up in Mina, between Mount Arafat and Mecca, to house pilgrims.

- The Saudi Red Crescent has mobilised 2,468 employees and 500 volunteers, who will work with 326 ambulances and eight helicopters.

- More than 700 Saudi cooks have been recruited to feed the faithful, Arab News reported.

- Saudi Arabia hopes to welcome 30 million pilgrims annually in the kingdom by 2030, the Saudi Gazette said, up from the current 8 million. Muslims also flock to the country for the umra pilgrimage, which can be performed at any time of the year.

- Last year, 712,000 animals were slaughtered during the Hajj, according to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

- Once in Mecca, pilgrims perform Tawaf, or circumambulation, seven times counter-clockwise, around the Kaaba, a black masonry cube in the centre of the Grand Mosque.

- Pilgrims then walk seven times between two stone spots at the mosque called Safa and Marwa. This ritual emulates a historic search for water by Prophet Ibrahim's wife Hagar, in a ritual known as Sa'i.

These rituals are considered the Umra, or lesser pilgrimage, and come ahead of the Hajj's main rites when pilgrims head to Mina and stay in tents for the night – around five kilometres (three miles) east of the Grand Mosque.

- The next day, pilgrims gather on the hill known as Jabal al-Rahma (Mount of Mercy) and the surrounding Mount Arafat plain, 10 kilometres southeast of Mina, where they remain until evening in supplication and devotion to God.

Stoning the 'devil'

- After sunset, pilgrims leave for Muzdalifah, half-way between Arafat and Mina, where they stay at least until midnight. They gather pebbles to perform the symbolic "stoning of the devil" the next day.

- At the start of the Eid al-Adha feast, pilgrims return to Mina for the first of three daily stoning rites. Traditionally, seven pebbles are thrown at a post representing the devil, emulating the actions of Abraham.

Since 2004, it has been replaced by walls to accommodate the rising numbers of pilgrims and to try to avoid a repeat of deadly crushes at the site.

- After the first stoning, sheep are slaughtered and the meat distributed to needy Muslims, symbolising Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael on the order of God, who provided a lamb in the boy's place at the last moment.

- Men then shave their heads or trim their hair while women cut a fingertip-length of their locks. After that they can end their state of Ihram and change back into normal clothing – all restrictions are then removed.

- They then return to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, circumambulating seven times around the Kaaba, and again performing Sa'i between Safa and Marwa.

- The pilgrims then return to Mina to continue the stoning ritual for two or three more days.

- Finally, they return to the Grand Mosque, circumambulating the Kaaba seven times.